Friday, August 26, 2016

Scientists Link Coffee Drinking to Our Genetic Makeup

A gene was recently identified by scientists that is believed to change the way the human body digests caffeine. In Italy, villagers who possessed the PDSS2 gene drank roughly one cup less of coffee a day when compared to villagers who lacked the PDSS2 gene. Scientists believe that the gene variant PDSS2 reduces the time is takes to metabolize coffee within the body. This means that the stimulant effect on the body is longer lasting, as it is broken down at a slower rate than one observed in a person who does not carry the PDSS2 gene. This new discovery bolsters the belief that coffee drinkers drink the beverage for the caffeine, and the stimulant effect it produces. Although more studies need to be done to confirm the link between the PDSS2 gene and its effect on consuming caffeine from coffee, this is a major breakthrough.

Previous research on this topic has shown that there are a lot of variables that have prevented scientists from establishing a legitimate link between the human metabolism and the effect that caffeine may have on it. It is already known that coffee has a number of medical benefits for individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases.There could also be a potential link between what prompts people with these types of diseases to consume coffee.

I found this association between coffee and genetics particularly interesting because coffee is a widely consumed beverage across the globe. Throughout the course of my life I have observed that many people I speak to have a strong love or distaste for coffee. After delving into this topic, it’s interesting to find out that some people process it differently. This leads me to wonder if people who enjoy coffee experience its effects differently as a result of their genetic makeup. Eventually, there may be an assessment used to determine whether or not you have the PDSS2 gene. It would be fascinating if scientists could accurately pinpoint the amount of coffee each person needed to drink to stay alert throughout the day.

The gene variant appears slowing the breakdown of caffeine in the body, meaning that it lingers in the blood for longer and gives people a more enduring “hit” for every cup.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Importance of Beetles with Three Eyes to Genetics

Beetles with three eyes have the potential to further our current knowledge on genetic development and have in recent studies. Recently in Eurekalert, a press release identified that new traits had evolved through specific genes. The researchers turned off the orthodenticle genes specifically, and ended up with some fascinating results. The beetles head structure had evolved and there was either complete loss of, or the shrinkage of, their horns. In addition to this, the beetles had developed compound eyes in the middle of their heads. The same type of changes were made with another species of beetles and they did not yield the same results.

Image result for three eyed beetle

This was amazing to researches because now they could turn off the development of one major region of the head, and turn on the development of another. The researchers feel that orthodenticle genes have developed a new function which is now to instruct the development of horn and head configuration. They figured this out by mapping the regions of larval heads that would later make up the fully-matured, adult heads. They turned genes on and off to distinguish the multiple roles they have in head development. Overall, the study of beetles in relation to genetics remains to be an exciting and interesting area of study.

I find this to be incredibly compelling because if we have the potential to remove genes from a certain area and enhance or turn on the ability of others within beetles, then we probably have the capability of doing the same in humans. This could mean that we might be able to eliminate undesirable traits, or illnesses in the future and potentially offset a more positively inclined gene in return. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Recent Research Suggests a Genetic Link to Depression

Image result for depression and genetics

In recent years, it has been identified that major depressive disorder is a very noteworthy disease and health problem. However, its biological infrastructure is not well understood. This is due to the diseases heritability and its variability in the symptoms. Nature Genetics posted a recent study that pinpointed four separate genome regions with five independent gene variants that are linked to depression. The meta-analysis of data collected within this study was collected by both previous studies published about depression as well as the consumer genetics company 23andMe. These studies help to pinpoint the specific regions of the chromosome that have been commonly linked to depression. Although there is not enough research yet to prove this, a correlation can suggest an explanation. One of the most important genes to be associated with depression was OFLM4 (a protein that boosts tumor growth) which is usually expressed in the temporal lobe and the amygdala.
There was a sum of 15 independent chromosomal regions that attracted attention. Many of the associations seemed to be close to genes that encoded proteins that were involved in gene regulation. Specifically, these regulators were associated with the central nervous systems development. This means that there could absolutely be a correlation to depression. In both of the sets of data that were examined in this study, there was a link to people who had reported a self-diagnoses of depression. Overall, 17 separate locations in the genome were linked to major depression.

I find this very interesting because until recently, there has been very limited research on the origin of depression. It has been debated whether it is related to genetics or completely unrelated or both. Although this research shows a correlation between specific locations in the genome that are associated with the diagnoses of depression, there is still much to be learned about the link between genetics and depression. However, this new research gives us hope that it will provoke more studies in the future that may help to get to the bottom of the question of whether genetics are linked to depression.  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How fish can regenerate eye injuries at the cellular level

Fish have the special ability to regenerate injuries to the retina at a cellular level. Scientists from Heidelberg University’s Centre for Organismal Studies, or COS, have discovered as to how the regeneration process starts by studying the Medaka fish. There is one genetic factor that triggers two steps for this process to occur. The two steps are cell division and differentiation of progenitors into new and different cell types. Stem cells have been a huge topic as of late in the medical world. Stem cells can be used to correct faults in the body. However, we have not yet been able to actually figure out how to perfect this system. One-day scientists hope that we will actually be able to use stem cells to help repair various injuries. In a study, researchers looked into the retina of fish and found that they can completely repair injuries to the retinal nerve cells. There are special glia cells that act like stem cells. Both fish and humans have these cells in their eyes. These cells are also called Muller cells. Professor Wittbrodt of COS explored if these cells could be activated and what would stimulate the regeneration process. A gene called Atoh7 is responsible for cell differentiation and is triggered by a single genetic factor. There are several steps that go into the regeneration process of a fish’s eye. The glia cells first start to proliferate. “First the Müller cells near the injury start to proliferate. The resultant neuronal clusters contain the progenitor cells for the cell types of the retina. In the last step, these progenitors differentiate and turn into the neuronal retinal cells to be restored”. These cells supposedly show signs of being able to repair any injuries. The Atoh7 gene is the big factor, which fulfills two functions and triggers proliferation and differentiation into various retinal cell types. Scientists hope that one day we will be able to decode this ability in humans.

Regeneration is a very interesting and unique ability that various species possess. By studying these species more and more I believe that one day we will be able to figure out a way to possess this ability in humans. Being able to cure someone’s blindness would be a miracle. Hopefully one day it will only take one simple surgery for someone to repair their damaged retinal cells. I think more research and funding should go into fully understanding the regeneration process.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

How did birds get their wings? Bacteria may provide a clue, say scientists

Scientists now believe that bacteria may give us some insight on how birds got their wings. There have been many traits developed through evolution that gives organisms chances to create new opportunities in their community. It is still debated how these changes come about genetically. A study led by the University of Oxford has looked into bacteria and found that they acquire duplicate copies of genes which can provide a “template” that would allow an organism to acquire new traits from the repeating copies of genes. The theory has been around since the 1970s however these new findings show how it is actually possible. Professor Craig MacLean, who is in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, helped conduct the studies. They took 380 populations of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria to evolve and gain new traits, which would help them degrade new sugars in order for them to eat new food sources. After 30 days, they sequenced the genome of the bacteria and they saw that mutations mostly affected the genes that are a part of transcription and metabolism. The new trait tended to evolve through mutations in pre-existing replicated genes. These findings further prove that duplication events may be the cause of new traits and these finding may help us for further innovations. MacLean believes that this may also help us to predict the ability of harmful bacteria to evolve and obtain new traits like virulence and antibiotic resistance.

I think it’s very interesting how duplicated genes may be the reason that gives species the ability to obtain new traits that will benefit their way of living. Further understanding as to how species can have this ability would help us with research and discoveries. Being able to find to predict a bacteria becoming resilient to antibiotics would be extremely helpful. Maybe we could one day obtain the knowledge and power to be able create new traits in humans or animals that are in dire need of a new trait and can not wait thousands of years for evolution to take place.

Scientist working with mice report preliminary progress in efforts to eliminate brain-clogging proteins linked to Alzheimer's disease. By tweaking genes in the brain of mice, researchers say they reduced levels of a substance called beta amyloid that's closely tied to Alzheimer's. There's no guarantee the findings will be relevant to people with Alzheimer's disease because results of animal studies often aren't replicated in humans, experts say. However, I believe that these findings are very significant in the discovery of a cure for this disease.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Genetic Link to Addiction

Researches have noticed that people who clear nicotine slower are twice as likely to become addicted. The study focused on genetic defects that have a moderate or sever affects on the liver's ability to metabolize nicotine. 281 seventh graders that have begun to smoke, but not are not necessarily addicted were studied and thirteen percent had versions of the defected gene. Also having the nicotine remain in the brain longer also sped up the addiction.

It would be interesting to see how well this study develops. It could help save lives of many Americans from having to rely on such an addictive drug that is so readily available and is harming so many. Having a better understanding of how toxins affect us and how are body react to them can all be discovered through genetics.

Endometrial Cancer and Genetic Risk Factors

Endometrial cancer is a common disease that affects approximately 200,000 women in the United States every year. This disease occurs when cells in the inner lining of the uterus begin to divide uncontrollably. This most often occurs after women reach the age of 55 and is currently treatable through removal of the uterus, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy. Currently, the survival rate for a woman diagnosed with this disease in stage 3A is 58% after five years, but it is common to live longer. Researchers have discovered 5 gene regions that help with determining the risk of a woman developing endometrial cancer.

 Determining the genetic markers that tell of an increased risk of developing this cancer will help many women in the future. Since Endometrial cancer is the number one cancer that affects women, it is imperative that we find even more gene regions that may help determine the risks of developing endometrial cancer. Finding more gene regions that are identified with this cancer may enable scientists to create the same standards when determining risk of breast cancer, in that case the BRCA gene. Much like how women sometimes undergo mastectomies to prevent the development of breast cancer, women with a high risk of endometrial cancer can undergo hysterectomies in order to help prevent this cancer. Not only have these new regions been associated with endometrial cancer, but ovarian and prostate cancer as well. So further research may enable scientists to create better tests that utilize genetic data to treat disease. This new data may also help in creating drugs and technology that specifically targets these specific regions. These are great leaps forward because in the past scientists may have had the technology, but they did not know specifically where in the genome these markers were located. So now the issue lies in actually targeting these errors that occur within the human genome. Scientists have taken biopsies of endometrial tumors and have obtained the genetic code from them, and scientists hope that this will someday be used to determine the most affective pharmacological and technological treatments.